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Day in Fort Worth: arts and culture where the West begins

Fort Worth settled on the banks of the Trinity River in 1849, where millions of cattle were herded through on the Chisholm Trail. Back in the day, it was quintessential Wild, Wild West, saloon brawls, spurs, cowboys and all.
All photography by Cori Baker | Love the Fort Worth the Love, Brewed

Fort Worth settled on the banks of the Trinity River in 1849, where millions of cattle were herded through on the Chisholm Trail. Back in the day, it was quintessential Wild, Wild West, saloon brawls, spurs, cowboys and all.

Other than the Fort Worth Stockyards, the city that’s risen up is almost unrecognizable. Though there are more kale smoothies wandering the streets than cows, Fort Worth will always have its freerange past, making it one of the most proud, individual cities in the country. Its residents are loyal. Its culture thrives. It is not Dallas. Fort Worth is more than a cowtown these days, with some of the best museums in North Texas and a vibrant, thriving art scene a girl could spend days exploring.

But first, we eat.

Righteous Foods

Day in Fort Worth art murals public art Texas Plano Profile art walk The Kimbell Art Museum Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Magnolia Ave
A spread at Righteous Foods

On an unusually stormy day, we start with a healthy dose of greens at Righteous Foods, a plant-based dieter’s dream. Succulents bloom on every table. Their coffee mugs—which read “Death before Decaf”—preach the truth. Righteous Foods serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as raw, local and organic as possible. Plus, they’ve got great taste in dishware; the smooth black plates make every dish pop like a Warhol.

Righteous Foods is also just a four-minute walk from the museums—or a one-minute car ride if it’s raining. My coworker and I skip the alcoholic laced “retox” menu and choose to detox with Blackberry Chia Lemonade. This tart drink leans hard into its lemon character. Instead of loads of sugar, you’ll see chia seeds floating amid the ice. It’s an easy way to get your omega-3 fatty acids, even if the fresh blackberries occasional get stuck in your straw.

Read more: The Most Instagrammable Desserts in Collin County

Avocado Eggs Benedict come with a lovely sweet potato and zucchini hash. The kitchen poaches its eggs in tumeric to a vivacious yellow for a clever anti-inflammatory effect. They perch on top of avocado mash with a subtle piquillo hollandaise. For dragon fruit fans, the Pitaya Bowl is new to the menu and frankly stunning, topped with berries, banana, sprouted watermelon seeds, coconut shavings and generous slices of dragon fruit. Or treat yourself with a French toast that actually won’t hurt your diet. Well, it won’t hurt much. Righteous Foods offers two thick slices of whole wheat bread, with bananas and walnuts baked into it, topped with fresh berries and a coconut-rich mascarpone. A few extra sit-ups are worth it.

Kimbell Art Museum

Day in Fort Worth art murals public art Texas Plano Profile art walk The Kimbell Art Museum Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Magnolia Ave
Aristide Maillol’s L’Air, a 1962 cast of a 1938 design

The Kimbell is Fort Worth’s grand dame. Owned and operated by The Kimbell Art Foundation, the museum has expanded far beyond its original collection, which featured mostly British and French works from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Kimbell’s barrel vaulted design and open, mutable floor plan creates easy conversation between the artworks on display. The museum’s philosophy is that one single masterpiece is better than a thousand lesser pieces.

The Kimbell has more than one masterpiece.

From Caravaggio’s The Cardsharps (1595), coyly adjacent to Georges de La Tour’s similarly themed Cheat with the Ace of Clubs (1630-34), to Monet’s hazy Weeping Willow (1919) and Picasso’s Man with a Pipe (1911), the Kimbell’s collection is one of the most impressive in the area. For something off the beaten path, the Ancient American exhibit is full of fascination and a little magic. The Urn in the Form of Cociyo, God of Lightning and Rain, a third of fourth century Zapotec relic, felt apt considering the weather.

One of the Kimbell’s most iconic pieces must be Aristide Maillol’s L’Air, a 1962 cast of a 1938 design. The huge bronze statue, one outstretched arm, reclines under wisteria outside the museum’s cafe. A passing docent brings a new, 21st century interpretation to the piece, courtesy of a couple of young girls who visited the Kimbell with a parent. They observed that, obviously, L’Air was taking a selfie.

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Day in Fort Worth art murals public art Texas Plano Profile art walk The Kimbell Art Museum Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Magnolia Ave
Couple under an Umbrella (2013), New Works exhibit by Ron Mueck

We brave the rain to dash across Van Cliburn Way and shelter under Richard Serra’s multi-sensory Vortex, a tower echo chamber of thick metal panels. Richard Serra, as usual, turns unwieldy, intimidating slabs of metal, heavy enough to crush a car, into graceful, sky-reaching planes that lean on one another.

The Modern is actually the oldest museum in Texas. According to the museum’s history, it was originally founded in 1892 by 25 women as the Public Library and Art Gallery, an effort to foster culture in cowtown. Since then it has continuously evolved, changing shape and structure with the city.

Brilliantly designed by Tadao Ando in 2002, the Modern we see today stuns with huge glass window panels in metal frames and concrete walls. It is itself a piece of art complete with a large reflecting pond. Natural light pours into the galleries from skylights even on gloomy days, illuminating The Modern’s collection. The 53,000 square feet of gallery space house more than 3,000 significant works of modern and contemporary international art.

The real reason we visited was to catch the New Works exhibit by Ron Mueck, which ran this spring. Mueck molds frighteningly realistic sculptures out of clay models, then casts them in silicone or resin and finishes them down to the hair follicles by hand. Mueck’s process can easily take over a year. And yet, the six sculptures are not conventionally beautiful; the defeathered chicken hanging from the ceiling is frankly disturbing. Drift (2009), a man floating on a blue wall like it’s a pool is eerie. The shadow cast by a spotlight reveals subtle arm hair and his draped limbs look ready to move.

Woman with Shopping (2013) is a tired piece, smaller than the viewer with grocery bags full of cans that strain toward the ground. Her tight ponytail and weary eyes, plus the young baby cradled in a sling on her chest emote her gentle sense of stress and love.

But nothing is more stunning, terrifying or tender than Couple under an Umbrella (2013). The elderly husband and wife are the largest sculpture the Modern displayed. Sitting under an umbrella the width of a mid-sized sedan, they are portrayed in a private moment of rest. Their wedding rings could be bracelets. Their unspoken connection, expressed in his hand on her arm and his head pillowed on her lightly veined leg, is intimate. But their size and the sense that they could rise up at any moment makes it unsettling to view.

Other favorite pieces included Anselm Kiefer’s Book with Wings (1992-94), a heavy lead tome on a steel pedestal that still manages to look feather-light, The New Mothers (1989), an evocative photograph by Sally Mann, Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996) by Martin Puryear, and Untitled (Kitchen Table Series) (1990) by Carrie Mae Weems.

Confession time: we didn’t make enough time for Philip Johnson’s graceful Amon Carter Museum of American Art. It’s the final member of Fort Worth’s trio of great museums. My greatest regrets of that one rainy day are that I missed out on revisiting Amon Carter, and that Revolver Taco Lounge closed its Fort Worth location.

Magnolia murals

While museums connect a city to the world, local art thrives on the streets. Tourists and locals alike love public sculptures and murals, so we went to see some of the best. City walls turned canvases across the city show beautiful depictions of life in Fort Worth. 

Read more: Plans revealed for Legacy Cultural District

Magnolia Ave. is the little street that could; over the past few years it has blossomed into an offbeat new district for art, beer and casual living. Love the Fort Worth the Love, a cowboy and his coffee cup, is to Fort Worth what the i love you so much mural is to Austin, Texas. It’s the one you’ve got to see. Fort Worth’s cowboy has a vintage look, a clear homage to the city’s days of yore. 

The Dreamer Series by Katie Murray is fun to track down. Dream on Dreamer, Don’t Quit on your Daydream and Follow Your Dreams are all found on different Fort Worth streets, offering three unique backdrops to dream about. “The Watercolor Face” which has no official name, but is pretty distinctive, lives on the wall of The Chat Room Pub, a short walk from the cowboy. Really though, there are murals sprouting up everywhere in Fort Worth. You’ve just got to look around.

Scat Jazz Lounge

As the sun goes down, Fort Worth’s music scene truly comes alive. Scat Jazz Lounge hides in the basement of the historic Woolworth building on Sundance Square. You’ll know it by the neon yellow arrow, pointing down past the sidewalk to nondescript elevator doors. These will transport you down into the lounge. Tealights and the spotlight on the band provide the only illumination. Upscale and dignified, Scat is a vintage speakeasy in the best way. Cigarettes are allowed. Torn jeans and baseball hats are not.

Scat’s classic straight-from-the-bottle jazz starts at eight p.m. sharp. Every night there’s something different, but Scat regularly has odes to the French Quarter, Blue Notes and local performers like Liz Mikel and Joey Carter. Things get loud.

From its ambitious museums to ever-changing streets, Fort Worth’s culture is thriving, proud and still a little wild. 

Originally published in Plano Profile’s June 2018 issue.